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Horseshoe Magazine

“The Walk-In Freezer” 

Brimstone Bakery was the best bagel shop in lower Manhattan, and in the world, objectively speaking, although no one that ate there had the worldliness to make such a presumptuous claim. The shop boasted over three dozen varieties of bagels, eleven different unique cream cheese flavors, and disappointingly-average lattes. It only had one employee, and despite every shop regular attempting to interrogate him on the existence of a chef in the back kitchen or a financial advisor behind the scenes, it was truly just him. 

Officially speaking, Reggie Hayes managed the register, balanced the bakery’s checkbook, kept the cafe in decent repair, stocked the fridge, baked every bagel, and curated every coffee. Nothing was ever outsourced or frozen or delegated elsewhere. He did all of this, alone, at a ripe 66 years of age, and didn’t plan on closing shop anytime soon. 

The truth was a bit more complicated than that, but pompous food critics didn’t need to know anything more.

Wednesday afternoons were usually slow. While an occasional tourist floated in to get a taste of his world-famous everything bagel or dragonfruit-flavored cream cheese, the shop was currently dead, so Reggie took some time to clean out the coffee filters. When he heard the bell ring from atop the front door, he wiped his hands on his apron, and turned to help the incoming customer.

The young man approached the counter slowly, a manila folder clutched between his fingers. Reggie didn’t recognize him immediately, but his memory settled on him fast, and he dropped his customer-service persona. 

Gabriel Ramirez was an outlier in the slew of unread employment applications that Reggie had received over the years. Reggie usually didn’t even bother to receive them. He was stubborn in his insistence that his bagel shop was a one-man show. Nowhere online or on any bulletin board would one find a job listing for Brimstone. And yet, here Gabriel was, ready for his first day of onboarding with his resume and government IDs in hand. Reggie didn’t need to read any of it. He was only hiring Gabriel for one reason.

The freezer had told him to. 

“Hi Mr. Hayes,” Gabriel started. He placed the folder on the counter, but Reggie made no moves to take it. “I know I’m late, but you know how the subways are. It’s a holiday weekend.” 

“Don’t worry about it. Let’s get you started,” Reggie replied. “Thankfully, it’s pretty slow right now. Follow me.” 

Gabriel perked up and nodded, following Reggie around the counter. In the time it took the kid to cross the threshold, Reggie had gotten over his minor panic attack about the fact that he’d never had to train an employee before. He decided that walking him through a normal shift should do the trick, and he could answer any questions that popped up. He was the one and only expert, after all. 

“I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve been the only employee here for a long while, so I don’t have another apron for you. Here’s one of our t-shirts,” Reggie continued, handing Gabriel one of the red shirts from the front wall, tye-dyed and embellished with a cartoon of a devil gnawing on an inflamed bagel. Gabriel seemed excited at the prospect of free clothing and threw it on over his gray hoodie. 

“Alright, first order of business: bagels,” Reggie started.

He walked Gabriel through everything; literally: he started with the everything bagels, working his way through all the kitchen protocols before ending on the coffee machines. Gabriel wasn’t a particularly fast learner. He asked a minimum of three questions after every section of the training, and when Reggie tried to give him a more hands-on demonstration of one of the ovens, the new hire nearly started a fire. He knew very little about bagels, too, which seemed unusual for a Manhattan native. Reggie had to explain the concept of lox four separate times. He was starting to doubt the freezer’s wisdom. 

Which brought him to the final, and most important, aspect of training. 

“Don’t go into the walk-in freezer,” Reggie said sternly. Gabriel looked up from his notebook – which was clearly not doing him any favors, since he forgot every instruction immediately, written or not – and twisted his eyebrows together. 

“Why not?”

Reggie should’ve expected some push-back, but he didn’t have a reasonable explanation. Certainly not the truth. “We don’t freeze anything here, so it’s largely useless. Came with the building.” 

“Oh. Doesn’t that, like, waste energy or something?” 

“Probably,” Reggie said dismissively. “That’s about everything. Any questions?” 

He had questions, naturally, and Reggie answered them swiftly before turning Gabriel towards the lunch rush. It was a few misdemeanors short of a complete disaster, and Reggie had to step in to remake most of the drinks Gabriel sent out. Reggie was becoming increasingly impressed with the breadth of Gabriel’s incompetence and felt himself lose all semblance of the room around him. The only thing he could focus on was the intoxicating rhythm of toasting bagels and calling out names.

That’s when Reggie felt it: a visceral rumbling in his muscles, a high-pitched squeal in his ears. He had only felt it once before, several decades earlier, when he had opened the bakery in the first place. Everyone in the shop grew still, almost frozen, as time slowed to a snail’s crawl and the air around him swirled like a thick syrup. Reggie didn’t even notice until he held a coffee out to a waiting customer, and the cup simply floated between them as he let go. Panic gripped his nerves in a chokehold. The freezer. 

He abandoned his post at the counter and rushed to the back of the kitchen, where he saw Gabriel, clutching his ears as he knelt before the walk-in freezer. He can hear it too, then. He seemed unaffected by the slowing of time around them, instead tormented by the noise hammering through both of their skulls. Reggie paced across the room and grabbed Gabriel by the shoulders, trying to break him out of the spiral. 

“What did you do?” Reggie demanded, trying to shout over the deafening pound of their heartbeats, which were currently layering into a crescendo. 

“We were out of ice. I thought–” Gabriel started, before the sound became too unbearable, and he had to cover his ears again. 

An honest mistake. Reggie kept the bags of ice in a cooler around the back of the shop. The walk-in freezer served a far greater purpose.

Reggie turned to the freezer, afraid of what he might see. The Being that lived there also came with the building, and was written into the lease in fine print. It was typically confined to the boundaries of the walk-in freezer, and after the shop tenant signed the building contract, the Being took care of the rest. It made every shop that inhabited that space the best in town: the best pizza, the best Mexican food, the best dumplings. The best bagels. Managed every part of the business, made the food of an exceptional quality, even sold all the merch. 

For a price, of course, for what didn’t have a price? It varied for every shop owner, and sometimes it was simply too costly to keep the business afloat, but for Reggie? All it took was the end of his already-fringed marriage to secure the best bagel shop in Manhattan. And in Manhattan, that was everything. That kind of power and influence was more than enough to keep the Being happy. Two decades of insurmountable success in exchange for his bothersome wife and an unuseable freezer. The deal never bothered him before.

Sometimes the Being demanded things. Who was Reggie to question those demands? Most of them were rather reasonable: keep the shop open for a few extra hours on Friday, close on Sundays, buy more flour, restock the caramel syrup. This time around, the Being made a unique request. Hire new meat. Reggie had opposed the concept at first, but he wasn’t about to risk failure now, after dedicating so much to Brimstone Bakery. So he hired the first minimum-wage-seeking college student that walked into the building. 

And then he understood. The reason he’d run this shop on his own for so long was to protect any outsiders from the Being’s abhorrent demands, but that was precisely why it wanted another employee in the building, one that was naive and unskilled. 

Keeping the freezer closed was one of the requirements of the lease. And now the Being was getting loose. 

“Help me shut the door!” Reggie yelled. 

He could tell Gabriel couldn’t hear him, especially as Reggie got closer to the door. As his hand closed around the steel handle, the squealing only got louder, the rumbling more pronounced in the sheetrock walls. The teenager seemed to get the idea, though, and joined Reggie in his attempt to keep the Being at bay.

Reggie tried to look into the freezer and get a glimpse of the creature he’d sold his soul to. The freezer hardly looked like one. In the place of shelves were just deep, black gyres of nothingness, attempting to suck the bagel shop into its self-contained abyss. The Being had the same chill that a freezer might advertise, and as its twirling coils tried to ensnare Reggie and Gabriel within its clutches, the two men felt their bones constrict and rattle within their fleshy cages. 

Closing the freezer took Herculean effort, and as the door inched closer to the frame, their mental torment only became more excruciating. By the time it was nearly shut, Reggie swore his eardrums were bleeding and his bones had been ground to ash. Gabriel looked like he was on the verge of fainting, but young men were built of sturdier stock. With a few more stubborn shoves, the freezer door clicked into place, and the horrible shrieks ceased. 

“What… the hell… was that?” Gabriel asked in between desperate heaves of breath. Reggie sighed, trying to recollect his own energy and decide how much was acceptable to share with this stranger. He supposed the cat was already out of the bag. Or the demon was already out of the freezer. Nearly. 

So he told him everything. Gabriel kept his face neutral, as much as he could, and slowly nodded his head with every point. Once Reggie had finished, the new employee sat in silence for a few fragile moments, staring at the floor in discontent. 

“So, that thing wanted to eat me?” Gabriel asked. 

“Theoretically. I think it was more interested in eating this shop. And potentially all of Manhattan.” 

“You’re putting the world in danger for the sake of, what, some sub-par bagels?” 

“Sub-par? We’re world-renowned, mind you,” Reggie shot back, offended. “And, to be fair, I didn’t strike a deal with this thing. It came with the shop.” 

“You have to get rid of it, man,” Gabriel replied. “Move to a different shop, at the very least. You’re popular enough. Got nice branding. You’ll survive without it.” 

“I’ve already been here for so long. I’ve given up so much. You want me to just change the way I do things?” 

“Dude. It’s a demon. In your freezer. It just tried to eat New York.” 

Reggie sighed and considered it for a moment. He didn’t want to have this conversation, in any case. The rest of the bakery was up and running again now, and customers were bound to be wondering where the staff had gone. 

Reggie didn’t want the Being in his freezer, of course. Who wanted to deal with such a thing? But it’d been running his shop so smoothly for the past twenty years, and Reggie was too far past his prime to start making risky business ventures now. He was old. He couldn’t balance his own ledgers anymore, or track all the shipments coming in and out of the kitchen. He couldn’t bake fresh bagels every morning and make trendy coffees or handle the social media. Why not let a supernatural being take care of it all? 

Then he looked across the floor and realized he had something far more powerful than an otherworldly entity. He had an unemployed undergraduate. 

“How would you like a full-time position, Gabriel?” Reggie asked. 

“Full-time?” He repeated. “You want me to work full-time in a demon bagel shop?” 

“It’s not a demon. Some kind of… eldritch being or something,” Reggie muttered. “We’ll relocate and get rid of the thing. But you’ll need to bust your ass helping me get this place running without it.” 

Gabriel thought about it for a moment, which surprised Reggie, to a degree. He was expecting a harder ‘no.’ Then he remembered that most college students would lick bacon grease off the floor for an Amazon gift card. 

“Do I get full-time benefits? Health insurance and stuff?” Gabriel asked.

“If you can help me figure that all out, then sure,” Reggie replied.

“A 401k?” 

“Don’t push it.”

“Fine,” Gabriel surrendered. “I’m only taking nine credits this semester, anyway.”


The two shook hands, stood up from the floor, and dusted off their pants. There was a minor pandemonium in the bakery; Reggie could hear the disgruntled murmurs of forgotten customers. Gabriel stepped out in front of him, greeting the first customer he could see with a friendly smile and a perky pep in his step. Reggie looked up at him fondly, feeling his first blink of hope in the past few decades, before realizing he could smell something burning. 

Gabriel had left something in the toaster. 

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Myles Allan
Myles Allan, Literary Editor
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